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The Coach: ‘I’m a rural builder looking for a decent architect?’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises a housebuilder who is having trouble finding an architect he can recommend to clients

I run a building firm in a rural area. I have a constant flow of work, quite often whole house building or major refurbishment. Frequently my clients need me to recommend an architect. I have one who is good but she is retiring, so I have been trying others in my area. I am shocked at how hard they are to work with: they either set silly fees so don’t get the job, or design with no regard to how to build, which makes my pricing of the project difficult, making me look bad to the client. Where do I find a good architect?  

Matthew turner

It is an ironic inversion of the usual tired cliché that a good builder is as rare as hens’ teeth, and here you are evidently struggling the other way. I say evidently, as you forwarded some plans as an example, and I can completely see what you mean. Huge cantilevered eaves here, angles and kinks there, all not doing much architecturally with painful details to resolve, the overall effect fussy and gratuitous.

I agree this is not the work of a skilled architect, and I can see why you are frustrated. 

Many architects would jump at the opportunity to do projects of this scale

Of course some architects like to think a builder is there merely to resolve their concepts, but there are others who take an interest in construction, in simplicity, and who want to work collaboratively. Many would jump at the opportunity to do projects of this scale. 

While there are few architects in your area, it sounds like you just need to redouble your efforts to find someone you can work with. You could start with the recommendations of your favoured architect, then spread your net wider to the nearest city, which I can see is not so far away. There may also be architects who travel to your area but aren’t based there, such as those with relatives or holiday homes nearby. They might be persuaded to limit travel costs. 

The fee issue is a harder one to judge. Perhaps the architect’s approximation of full fees may in your mind be inflated if you are a very competent contractor. You could communicate your fee level concerns by providing honest feedback, and allow them to decide how much they want the work. However, your clients’ resistance to high fees is most likely due to wishful thinking on what things cost. Given you are in the privileged position of being recommended, and therefore trusted to a degree, you can manage clients’ expectations on cost. Good architects exist; you just need to carry on looking.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com 


Readers' comments (4)

  • Where are you based?

    I have just started my own practice and may be able to help you if you are located anywhere near me. I'm in Herefordshire and work throughout Herefordshire and the surrounding counties.

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  • John Kellett

    Interesting. As an architect in rural area I’ve a shortage of clients and builders.
    If architects are charging for the time it takes to do a project properly (professionally) in accordance with ASBA and RIBA guidance then they are not over charging. Fake architects and others charge less because they are not qualified as architects :-) Try discussing with architects the level of information you need, preferably using more efficient BIM workflows, and reach agreement that way so that you both make sufficient profit. A professionally and well designed building can be worth over 10% more than one designed by less qualified (or unqualified) people and businesses. That difference can more than cover the cost of using an architect :-)

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  • I have read this article with interest. I would be genuinely interested in discussing a possible working relationship.

    From my side, this is what I would be looking for from you as a main contractor:

    * An understanding of the professional roles expected under a simple form of construction contract
    * The capability to read sets of drawings ( from architects, structural engineers etc) before construction work starts and to think through the issues
    * The ability to keep a working set of drawings on site and to update them with new issues of drawings when they come in- and the expectation that drawings will be revised- even when construction work has started
    * A realistic expectation that architect’s drawings- even ‘technical’ ones- are a type of cartoon/ diagram- input is often required from the person who is actually doing the building work-they are not Ikea instructions
    * A ‘respect’ and understanding for the ‘design’- which goes through a lot before construction work starts- buying into the big picture and understanding that if the design is eroded too much there will be no ‘design’ or wow in the end
    * An expectation that we are producing a prototype, a one off, and that sometimes we get things wrong and do not see it until it gets to site- we are all opting into a exploratory process and none of us (architect, client, contractor) are perfect- we will have to do some things- and get them wrong- and redo them
    * An understanding that when a project is onsite (and builders are working full time) the architect is normally not on the project full time-this requires planning and foresight from the contractor regarding the architect’s input
    * The capability to act as a main contractor- interfacing the work of all subcontractors and the specified products- taking responsibility and being the ‘glue’ in the project- anticipating issues regarding this from the drawings and specification before work starts onsite
    * Finally, an understanding that there are different types of architects, wishing to do different types of work- some may only wish to work with clients who are interested in ‘Modern’ Design- not all architects suit all clients- and all contractors.

    Scott Batty Architect, Hertfordshire.

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  • Tom Partridge

    Oh dear: “Huge cantilevered eaves here, angles and kinks there, all not doing much architecturally with painful details to resolve”, sounds like every project I ever worked on.

    Though, just to say:
    1. Not doing much “architecturally” is subjective, perhaps “practically” would’ve been more accurate.
    2. ‘God is in the detail’: surely it’s worth a bit of pain and head scratching to achieve something that’s special.
    3. If it’s prosaic construction techniques and traditional house building that’s required often a technologist or architectural designer is your best bet. Architects should endeavour to design beyond what’s obvious, with due regard to budgets and buildability of course.

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